Furthering the neoconservative diagnosis

A while back I noted the oddity of Catholic neocon George Weigel praising Philadelphia in the 50s as “a town of ethnic neighborhoods in which Catholic kids unselfconsciously identified themselves by parish … dang, it was great” and in a few lines without explanation attacking those who wanted to maintain ethnic and religious boundaries in Philadelphia. Now there’s a short but rambly piece at the First Things weblog in which the author (a Southern Catholic girl who went on to become a German lit professor at Columbia) that comments positively on the moral life of the 50s and negatively on “the segregation and hermeticism that characterized American life then.” Such pieces are part of what lead me to view neoconservatism as the view of ambitious and upwardly-mobile careerists (the First Things writer appears to have achieved a career beyond her intelligence) who now identify with those who rule the world, and thus denigrate particularities that obstruct the power of their new class, but remember fondly the local and communal life of their childhood and so look for rhetorical or programmatic ways to support certain moral and social aspects of that life under conditions of enforced liberal universalism. It is truly conservatism as the politics of nostalgia.

1 thought on “Furthering the neoconservative diagnosis”

  1. Double-Minded Pluralists: Conservatives
    Thanks, Mr. Kalb, for shining a light on these oddities. These conservatives hate what they love, and love what they hate. They profess love for “particularities” and what is “local and communal” but deny the acts of authority, exclusion, and discrimination that sustain them. It is the stance of a double-minded pluralist.

    We see the same stance when we move from what they praise and blame to what they tell us we need. To make pluralism more durable, these conservatives urge men to become virtuous, and open to “faith”.

    “We’re deep,” they say. “We see that certain manners and customs must be maintained in order to sustain freedom. We’re men of faith who know that social capital’s the thing. And so we say to our fellow Americans, go join a de Tocqueville reading-club, attend a purpose-driven praise service, and watch a movie in which the protagonist keeps a promise. Let’s go!”

    Yet this pluralism they seek to preserve rests on the unintelligibility of being, the teaching that no one can know truth, and since no one can know truth, no one can love the good. Because no one can know that he has the truth, say, about the end of man, group life must be processed by the method of procedural neutrality.

    So the rationale behind the attachment to pluralism undermines the rationale for the attachment to a model of the real that makes the life of virtue worth choosing or defending in the first place. If you cannot know that such a life is good, then you have no reason to choose it. Yet according to pluralist conservatives, we must believe in that which we must reject when structuring group life, the very same group life that will never facilitate virtuous lives because of its procedural neutrality. In short, we are encouraged to want something, but for no good reason, and because there is no good reason to want it, we will never structure group life to attain it. We must work very hard to make what we want impossible. What good is that?

    Always moving forward, yes, yes, but with regrets, yes, regrets they’ll find endearing, no doubt about it. All very nuanced. So don’t wait. Make Conservatism your pluralist lifestyle today. Act now, and we’ll throw in a free issue of First Things! Tell your friends about us, and we’ll set you up with a free blog with choice of banner, intense Lord Acton profile or laughing Founding Fathers buddy shot. The choice is yours!


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